What Does a Cooking Show Contestant Know About Leadership?

Okay, I admit it. I watch more shows on Food Network than all other channels combined (except maybe for History Channel’s Pawn Stars, purely for its historical value). I’m a foodie. It’s my attempt to watch something of more redeeming value than American Idol. I can’t sing, but I can cook.

There is a top show on now called The Next Food Network Star. Contestants scramble for a spot as the next celebrity chef by churning through a barrage of challenges – improvising meals against the clock, taping their own promos, reinventing familiar recipes – all to showcase both their kitchen prowess and their on-camera magnetism.

Judges have pared the original line-up down to four this week. Now the viewers get to vote on line for their favorite. I have watched every episode and have seen a tell-tale pattern: While some contestants clearly flopped when it came to executing a recipe, most of the others who were sifted out over the weeks failed because they simply could not reach deep enough to extract their own “story” – why they love to cook, what it says about them and their roots and dreams, and whether viewers should follow them for some reason other than what is on the plate.

All my votes went to Yvan Lemoine, a young culinary entrepreneur who immigrated from Venezuela with his family ten years ago. His told stories of growing up poor, relishing time with family over modest meals and how he wants people to appreciate the meaning of sharing simple “home-style” meals together. You just want the guy to win – on the show and in life. He’s comfortable with himself and stays outside of his head to connect with the audience.

The point is: How much do we appreciate the role of our own story as leaders in helping people connect with us, understand who we are and feel they are a part of a greater purpose we represent? How much time do we take to get to know others around us and connect at a level that simply is never captured in a strategic plan or performance appraisal?

Tell your story modestly, but find a way to tell it. People want to hear it. It likely will connect with a story of their own. Combine that with a clear vision and you have a winning recipe.



About paulheagen

I am an executive coach, advisor and confidant who helps leaders better understand, refresh or redirect their purpose in their business and personal lives. Over my 35-year career as a corporate executive, communications consultant and trusted advisor, I have guided executives through “defining moments” – those unique times when the decisions they make, the words they speak, and the qualities they exhibit can influence not only the destiny of their organization but also their own lives and careers. When it comes to my clients and my life work, I am ferociously passionate and restlessly inquisitive about uncovering the unique dreams, vision and purpose that lead to exceptional leadership.
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